Reserve OL For Bucs Game Lacking Flexibility

If things on the injury front proceed as they appear, then it’s likely that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be starting two backup linemen tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert are listed as doubtful, though the latter was a limited participant yesterday in practice and called himself a gametime decision.

In the event that he does not play, then the team’s top two interior reserves will be in the starting lineup—B.J. Finney at right guard for DeCastro, where he started a week ago, and Matt Feiler at right tackle in place of Gilbert.

Feiler played tackle in college, and it was also his primary position during his first two years in the league, but the Steelers began to shift him inside over the past few years, and even gave him extensive work at center this training camp, and preseason.

While he was retained as an interior reserve last season after playing all of his preseason snaps at guard, he actually opened up the year as the backup swing tackle over Jerald Hawkins, behind Chris Hubbard, though it only got to a point of him needing to play there one time, for nine snaps. He has gotten a full week of practice with the starting lineup now, however.

In the meantime, the team’s only backup linemen are exclusively limited to playing tackle, at least as far as we know. That would be rookie third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor and second-year player Zach Banner, a very large man that the team acquired off the street during training camp.

Banner certainly is unlikely to be able to kick inside. Okorafor athletically may offer that possibility, but given his youth and inexperience, it is unlikely that the team would try to give him that sort of flexibility so early on in his career, even if he is playing the tackle-eligible tight end role.

In other words, should an injury occur to any of the three interior starters for this game—Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and Finney—then the Steelers will have to slide Feiler inside after likely not practicing at any of those positions during the week, and inserting either Okorafor or Banner at right tackle.

The Steelers are a team that regularly profess to abhor moving parts. They don’t want to make a move that would require them to make other moves to accommodate it. But that would be the case if an injury were to occur against the Buccaneers, since their two backup linemen are only capable of playing one position.

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